An election, to most, is a vote taken to determine who and what party will hold office for the government in question for a set term. Though this is accurate, an election is also a reflection of not only the government and the people to which that government supports, but in fact the entire world at that time. The year of 1916 was one of optimism, opposition, nativism, women’s rights, allies, central powers, trenches, progressivism, isolationism and a great deal of nationalism. The Great War had started two years prior and a small amount of other serious conflicts such as Easter Rising, the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks and the Mexican Revolution had begun to take place as well. The incumbent to the presidency had appointed his first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis, and the US had invaded Cuba for the third time due to the corruption of the Menocal regime. 1916 also presented many achievements in a variety of subjects: the rise of Charlie Chaplin; the first successful blood transfusion; the invention of the light switch; the creation of the Boy Scouts; the beginning of Boeing Aviation; approval by more states of women’s suffrage; Coca-Cola’s introduction to the market of the current coke formula; the founding of the San Diego Zoo; the presentation of Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, and the cancellation of the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. Although such details may seem insignificant, no time ever lived in should be forgotten or secluded from that of the rest. Primary issues, political parties, nominations, elections and results do well to reflect this great time in history and its impact on the US as a nation but just as well should we remember the world as it was.
The most predominant factor affecting the world at that time was WWI, or as it was called back then, ‘The Great War’. The war had started two years prior to this election and had caused so much turmoil within Europe that the American people where simply dodging the inevitable. The Great War was merely an arms race of one alliance against the other. The first alliance was called the Triple Entente, also called Allies, which consisted, at that time, of Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia, Ireland, Portugal, Serbia, Romania and Greece. The second alliance was called the Triple alliance, also called Central Powers, and consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria and the entire Ottoman Empire. The conflicting alliances disturbed the American peoples through ethnicity, trade and moral dilemmas. German-Americans as well as the other Central Power country-related Americans had only begun to experience alienation because of the war, but the effect as well as their ties to home became a problem in future government involvement. Also, the Americans were supplying both sides. Ford Motor Company, for instance, was supplying the Germans with automobile parts. This, as well as moral conflicts from hearsay about the war, such as the sinking of the RMS LUSITANIA, had much of the United States in conflict. Still, much of the U.S was absolutely adamant towards its isolationist stance on the war.
Unfortunately the Great War was not the only problem present in the world in that year. In fact, such conflicts as the Easter Rising in Ireland and the Mexican Revolution also had an impact on many Americans just as easily. Easter Rising was, at the time, the biggest rebellion effort against the British rule over Ireland that had occurred since the rebellion of 1798. To some, it may seem that it was also the “spark” of what the IRA would later become as well as over 90 years of bloodshed between the IRA and the British. Though most of the attention of the U.S. was centered on the Great War, the uprising in Ireland was most certainly not a missed subject during this time, and most certainly not ignored by the majority of Irish Americans. The Mexican Revolution, however, had a more direct impact on the American people due to its proximity to the U.S. A revolution by a man named Francisco Madero led to attempts by Pancho Villa to reclaim lands lost to the US years before. Pancho Villa then invaded New Mexico killing 12 U.S soldiers and instigated retaliation from the United States government as wished. Though an invasion, Pancho Villa’s efforts, however, were merely used for tricking the US into intervening in the revolution by way of invasion themselves as a way of insuring that Villa’s preferred candidate would emerge victorious. Even more than our involvement, were two questions; how to protect the economic interests we had in Mexico during Taft’s administration, and, even more largely, how was this an act of neutrality. Much of the US was uncertain, by this point, of Wilson’s capability of dealing with foreign affairs, which had a significant effect on the election as well.
The year of 1916 was also an election year. The two primary parties were the Republicans and the Democrats. Minor parties, consisted of the Prohibitionists, Socialists, Socialist Labor Party and the Progressives. The Republicans of this time were seeking more protection on individual rights, restriction in foreign affairs involvement, increases in industry, protection of free enterprise, good education and the right of states to determine women’s suffrage. The Democrats, however, were endorsing Wilson’s former achievements as the incumbent; military preparedness, a world association of nations to maintain peace after the war in Europe had ended, Pan-American unity, a ban on child labor, women’s suffrage, and prison reform. Third parties, for the most part, remained more exclusive on which subjects they found most interesting. The Prohibitionists still kept their focus on the banning of alcohol; its main goal being temperance. The Progressives as well as the Socialists remained determined on excessive government change and inspiration for radical movements to support the people. Lastly, the Socialist Labor party had kept its views most evidently towards labor modifications.
Most parties were in agreement on who would represent what. The Democrats without opposition renominated Wilson and invited Thomas R. Marshall to be his running mate at the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis, Missouri from June 14th to June 16th. The Prohibitionist party held their convention in St. Paul, Minnesota from June 19th to June 21st and nominated James Franklin Hanly as president and Ira Landrith as his running mate. The Socialist Labor Party nominated Arthur Reimer as president and Caleb Harrison as his running mate in their convention in New York City, New York on April 29th to May 3rd. The Progressives were the same in accordance to their nomination of former president Theodore Roosevelt, but Roosevelt turned down his nomination, thus removing the party from the race and pulling former progressives in all directions. Roosevelt endorsed the Republican Party’s nominated member quickly thereafter. The Republicans had many candidates in question, but the most prominent was a conservative Senator named Elihu Root from New York, and a liberal Senator named John W. Weeks from Massachusetts. The party’s bosses on the other hand saw that a balance between the two would be more substantial for both ends of the party and result in a once again unified party. It was then, that Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes was brought into the race without previous interest and won on the third ballot, with former vice president Charles W. Fairbanks as his vice presidential nominee. The Socialists, due to Eugene V. Debs’ decline to the ticket, did not hold a formal convention. A referendum of the party’s members nominated Allan L. Benson, an anti-war activist, for president and George Ross Kirkpatrick as his running mate in hopes of a better chance at the presidency.
Due to popularity, precedent, and the incumbent himself, the two primary parties that ran against each other were the Democrats and Republicans. President Wilson, running on the Democratic ticket, came into the 1916 contest with a list of domestic accomplishments, but the race was dominated by foreign affairs and the ongoing world war in Europe. The Democratic Party itself was running most of the campaign on the slogan “He Kept Us out of War.” Ironically enough, Wilson did not like the slogan due to his doubtfulness in his capability to keep the US out of conflicts with such an uncertain future. Hughes, on the other hand, did not have the advantage of being the incumbent and used his efforts to suppress Wilson’s attempt to plead neutrality, as well as his views on labor laws that suppressed businesses and profit. On one hand, the Republican party held ‘militarists,’ who criticized Wilson’s weak foreign policies with Mexico and Germany, but also ‘pro-Germans’ or ‘pacifists,’ who simply denounced Wilson’s policies for fear they might lead to war. Hughes was not exact on either approach, but was diligent in his attempt to defeat Wilson. Though both Wilson and Hughes had a mostly similar outlook on the war, Hughes’ efforts seemed to have been skewed mostly by his own party. Theodore Roosevelt, who had split the party in the previous election, was now giving his endorsements to the Republican Party. Even though he was resentful for his lack of nomination in the party, he felt it was best to support them in order to oppose his most hated Wilson. Roosevelt held many speeches in an effort to support Hughes, but ended up leading a pro-war campaign that did nothing less than upset the majority of the US population and its absolute view on isolationism as well as alienating others. Nearing the end of the election, there was a minor issue in California pertaining to Hughes’ was slight of both Senator Hiram Johnson and the California Labor Unions. In spite of this, however, most of the American public believed that Hughes was most certainly going to win the election anyway. Results in November, as well, made the election one of the closest in history. Hughes took an early lead in the eastern and mid-western states but Wilson persevered and found himself in the lead with the western and southern votes. Wilson took 30 states for 277 electoral votes, while Hughes won 18 states and 254 electoral votes. Although still narrow, Wilson had also won the popular vote, taking 49% of the popular vote to Hughes’ 46%. The remaining five percent went to the third parties, leaving a 4% split between the Prohibitionists and Socialists. Voter turnout reached a high of 62%, and would not be matched for another 24 years until Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for a third term in 1940. Also, the 11 states that had already approved women’s suffrage played a great role in the election, as all but one state voted for Wilson. If Hughes had carried California and its 13 electoral votes, he would have won the election. This made the incident in California seem to be the cause which may have very well cost him the election.
In account of the election, we also see differences and similarities between past and present elections that allow us to compare and contrast our histories. Vice President Thomas Marshall was the first vice president elected to a second term since John C. Calhoun in the election of 1828. Woodrow Wilson was the only person other than James Knox Polk to win a presidential election but not win his home and birth state. His popular vote margin of 3.1% was also the smallest percentage margin in history for a victorious sitting President until the 2004 election, in which George W. Bush produced a margin of 2.4%. Wilson is also the only president in U.S. history to win re-election with fewer electoral votes than in his first election. However, Wilson is not the only President to win re-election with a lower percentage of the electoral vote in his second election than in his first election. The other president was James Madison, who although had a lower percentage, did have a lower electoral vote total. The election in general also has a distinct relevance to the 2004 election. Wilson, like Bush, was the incumbent president running for a second term whose only previous experience in a political office was as his home states governor. Though one ran on a strong war record and the other on keeping out of the war, Wilson and Bush had both run on their previous presidency’s involvement in war. Both were keen on their domestic involvement, however Bush wanted less taxes and Wilson wished for a new graduated federal income tax. Though different, there is most evidently a distinct connection between this election and others that has and will remain most important to our nation’s history. Mark Twain stated the importance of one’s past quite well, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
Written By: Carlynn Ferguson
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